Yesterday, myself, fellow USgamer writer Caty McCarthy, and a host of gaming industry colleagues took our shot at Leviathan, the first raid for Bungie's Destiny 2. It wasn't a successful run, as we're not hardcore progression raiders and some of us were probably underleveled, but it was definitely an experience.
Leviathan takes place inside the golden city-ship of the Cabal Emperor Calus, who was deposed years ago by Dominus Ghaul, the primary villain of Destiny 2. Calus has returned to make his mark on the galaxy, and while Ghaul was a hands-on guy, Calus is a different sort. From what we played and the streams of later encounters, Calus is Destiny 2's version of James Bond villain Auric Goldfinger: a villain who only wants power so he can enjoy the life.
"[Leviathan], when we looked at it, it was about building a place you believe is real. That was our priority," Destiny 2 design lead Luke Smith previously said about the raid. "It's unlike anything we've done. The team is incredibly talented; it is a joy to see them work."
The Leviathan does feel like a real structure, a floating pleasure palace from the moment you load into the zone. While the ship itself is a juggernaut, the raid takes place in the top of the structure in a large, ornate golden towers somewhat like a pyramid. Destiny 2 has been a highlight in terms of environment design, but the Leviathan is a crowning achievement. Decked in gold and sporting a faux-Roman style, the raid doesn't look like anything else in Destiny or Destiny 2. Basically, Bungie's art team deserves all the kudos this time around.
This raid is a version of the winged raid encounters you'll find in another massively-multiplayer online titles like World of Warcraft. There's the Leviathan Castellum, a central hub where you team has to return to after each encounter to open up the way into the next section. Those sections include the Royal Pools, the Pleasure Gardens, the Gauntlet, and finally Emperor Calus' throne room. There's also an extensive undercroft to unlock and explore.
Leviathan is a raid that features a good deal of combat, but only one real encounter that could be considered a boss. That's Calus himself in grand style, first via a holographic projection and then via a giant robotic version. The rest of the raid is a mix of puzzle encounters mixed with combat against heaping numbers of standard enemies. In the Castellum, players have to collect and defend three banners to unlock each door. In the Gauntlet, one part of the team has to shout out gates that need to be destroyed by the rest of the team. The Pleasure Gardens has players sneaking past patrolling dogs in order to finish the encounter.
That Gardens encounter seems to be the pain point for many groups, though the general composition of Leviathan as a puzzle-centric affair has turned some players off.
"Well, after about 4-5 hours of throwing ourselves at Gardens we gave up. I can't stand this raid. I played raids religiously in D1, every week staying up until reset to get VoG and Crota done. I didn't do much of King's Fall because I hated how if one person died it would ruin the encounter. This raid feels like they took everything I hated about raids in D1 and just smashed them together," lamented Reddit user T_Wrekt.
"Yeah, it's god awful. Had a team that beat it and it did not even feel good to win. Like everything about it is bad. I have nothing good to say about it," wrote NeoGAF user BroodShadow.
"Played up to the Pleasure Gardens tonight. We have the encounter down, but just couldn't get the execution right. That part is very annoying and kills the pace but I really liked the previous segments. I do think this is a weird one for the first raid in D2," said NeoGAF user RoboPlato.
"The puzzles are extremely simple, but also extremely punishing. They require a good leader or two to really push through," said Reddit user Takeforcem85 about the raid overall.
I also noticed players who had issues with the death mechanics within Leviathan, which will likely extend to further raids. Past a certain point, any dead player starts a timer that will eventually wipe the entire team. Even beyond that, the group has a specific number of revive tokens, meaning you can only revive teammates a certain number of times in total.
"My biggest issue is the revive token. I do like that there is a wipe timer if anyone goes down. It helps eliminate cheese and enforces the 'no one left behind' mindset. I really don't like that we have revive tokens. This single handedly cut 1/2 of the Destiny community from ever experiencing a raid Low skill players will have a hard time being brought in simply because they are a hard risk," said Reddit user Sparktastic.
"The revive system is complete crap," said Bungie forum member Maxesmagic. "Revive tokens in a raid? Ever stop to think of how soul crushing it is to get so far in an encounter, then wipe because no one can revive a guy? The 30 second timer that causes a wipe if a teammate is not revived? I legit wanted to smash my xbox after the 27th try at [Royal Pools], getting to the last rotation, and having someone die in mid."
Some players have expressed surprised at Leviathan being Bungie's first shot at a Destiny 2 raid. Given potentially newer players and the Guided Games system currently being beta tested, some hazarded that the raid would be a bit more straightforward and combat-heavy, allowing Clans and Fireteams to sub in random or new players.
"I am surprised at how mechanic heavy this raid is and am not sure how this will blend with the Guided Game system. I just can't picture a new solo player being able to hang or contribute in this type of event. I was betting on a basic entry level raid with hard mode or prestige mode really upping the ante for those seeking a hard challenge," said Reddit user OU7RID3R.
"Maybe it'll get easier with more experience, but I found Leviathan to be, by far, one of the most difficult raid experiences thus far in Destiny. All of the encounters are very heavily reliant on mechanics that are both extremely demanding of precise timing, and very unforgiving should you miss something," concurred Reddit user ABZR.
I admit, I was surprised to see how mechanic-heavy the encounters I played were. Like the sentiment above, I expected Leviathan to be an entry-level raid, something that would entice new and returning players. And given this focus on mechanics, the death system tied to the raid feels like it goes in the wrong direction; for a mechanics-heavy raid, you want players to figure out how to proceed. Raid encounters of this type are about experimentation and execution, but the harsh death penalty gets in the way of the experimentation part.
That said, at the end of the day, this is a Raid. Leviathan is legitimate endgame content. It's meant to be punishing and not easily completable. And despite issues folks may be having, the world-first clear of Leviathan happened in around 6 hours. That's around how long it took players to world-first Crota's End, and far below how long it took to complete Vault of Glass. In two weeks, all of the pain above will likely be forgotten as strategies are codified and everyone understands what needs to be done. This is launch day; you can expect teething issues.
As this was my first experience in any Destiny raid period, I came out of it with an intriguing look at the game's raiding community overall. I was a hardcore raider in World of Warcraft and I've raided in other MMO titles like Final Fantasy XIV. I expected a hard gear and damage check and got something a bit more mechanical. Despite that, Destiny 2's raid clear is measured in hours, similar to base raid content in those other MMOs. It'll be interesting to see how hardcore raiders fare in October, when the Prestige Mode of Leviathan launches.
For right now though, if you're going to be taking on the golden city, make sure you have a solid Fireteam at your disposal. Leviathan is chewing up the randoms.